Friday, September 11, 2009

Beaten : Crackdown

I finally picked up a cheap copy of Crackdown, an open-world third-person game that I tried out last year when a co-worker loaned it to me, and a few weeks ago I finished it. Crackdown is yet another game in the XBox 360's growing library of classics, and while its spot on that list is well-deserved, it's a game that gets so much right while missing some greater opportunities along the way.

Crackdown casts the player as a genetically enhanced super-cop in a vast city where three gangs - a Latino one, a Russian one, and an Asian one - have all but taken over their respective turfs. The player has five abilities - agility (jumping and running), strength, firearms, explosives, and driving - that raise through natural gameplay, increasing the amount of chaos the player can cause.

The player gets to enjoy the feeling of being super-powered in many ways - making unreal jumps off of towers, picking up trucks and throwing them at enemies, and so forth - and it's really a refreshing feeling of empowerment. There are standard weapons and grenades, and they all work well in combat, pretty much.

Driving takes some practice to get used to, as the sheer speed happening on the screen often leaves the player little time to react to oncoming traffic and terrain. To be honest, I spent most of my time running about, as the enhanced running and jumping was such fun that traversing rooftops seemed like a better way about. Your mileage may vary.

The action is chaotic at times, but absolutely fun. The targeting is very rough, though. The player must manually target enemies and then lock on, as just pressing the lock on button will usually lock onto a civilian car a block behind the enemy one is facing instead of the obvious choice.

The city is a masterpiece of design, not just large horizontally, but vertically as well. Almost everything is climbable, including the vast Agency Tower at the center of the map, rising to heights so dizzying that my real-world acrophobia was kicking in and my hands were shaking. There are lots of sights to see in Crackdown, and things to collect in its many nooks and crannies.

Where most games have solid boxes as their buildings, Crackdown often constructs them with intricate passageways leading to the rooftops, and the game's several collection quests will lead the player through many of these areas in search of power-enhancing orbs. It's a city of colorful design, and it all fits well with the game's cartoony-but-detailed cell-shaded look.

So Crackdown has fantastic gameplay, great graphics, and awesome level design. What it's lacking in is story and characters, really. Sure, it's got files of lore about the overall story of each gang and its bosses, but these people are just targets and their stories are background, not having much impact on the gameplay. It doesn't take much from the game not having that depth, but it would have been nice.

Crackdown is like cake without icing, still delicious and filling, but not as sweet. And there's a twist at the end - which I won't spoil - that lead me to think that a bigger battle was about to occur, but then - nothing. The game ends, leaving that unresolved twist to a sequel. Which is on the way, so maybe the sequel will pick up the ball and run with it. Crackdown does so much right, so it shouldn't be too hard for a sequel to really shine. We'll find out next year.

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